Shy international student? How to overcome your fear and unleash your potential

22 August 2022
Yongxin (Missy) Huang in the lab
Yongxin (Missy) Huang is from China and has a Bachelor of Marine Science. She graduated with a Master of Sustainable Energy at UQ in 2021 and is now a PhD student at UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN). Her topic is about designing safer batteries for Electric Vehicles.
Being an international postgraduate student in Australia isn’t always easy – especially not if you are shy and don’t feel confident in English. But with the support and encouragement from your classmates – and a well-meaning push from your course coordinator, you can challenge your self-doubt, and unleash your potential. Here is Missy’s story about how she overcame the barriers of her shyness and took the opportunities presented to her after graduation. 

- I still remember the nervous feeling I had, when I walked into the classroom for the first time two years ago, to study the Master of Sustainable Energy. At that time, everything was new for me, and I didn’t feel I could talk to the other students because of my Chinese accent. I had no related background in the energy sector and just stayed in the corner of the classroom and tried to record everything from the lecture. When some of my classmates talked to me, I just said ‘hi’ before escaping to the restroom. It was a terrible first week.

Trying to blend in

I chose to do my second course online, so I didn’t have to talk to people and experience other embarrassing situations. I know this happens to lots of international students – I just had no idea what to do. 

However, things changed in the middle of the course week, when the Course Coordinator, Dr Tony Heynen contacted me and asked why I hadn’t come to the uni. I was surprised that he even remembered me, as I hadn’t spoken a word. I then attended class on campus, and took the first steps to try and blend in. 

My first presentation

At the end of the week, we usually have a group presentation. Dr Tony Heynen asked my group members to give me the chance to talk as much as possible and be patient with me. I still remember how my group members gave me ideas, helped me modify my drafts and encouraged me. And then, I gave my very first presentation in English; although it was just an introduction, it was a profound moment for me. After presenting, I received more than 10 messages from my classmates congratulating me. Encouraged by this, I started to practice more English and read news about the Australian energy sector to educate myself. 

Another defining moment for me was in the final course, in which I was a group leader in charge of organising the group work. I remember my lack of confidence when I initially said no to the role but Tony insisted, and I accepted to lead the team. After our presentation, the rest of the class complimented our performance, and Tony said: “Missy, look at you, you are not the Missy we saw last year just sitting in the corner”- I almost cried.

Seizing opportunities

After my graduation from the Master of Sustainable Energy, I decided I wanted to keep learning about Sustainable Energy; particularly the technical side of energy storage which I think will be one of the most important fields in Sustainable Energy in the coming years for Australia to adapt to the increasing need for solar and wind energy. I applied for a PhD at AIBN and was awarded an Entrepreneurial PhD, and I also became a scholar at the Andrew N. Liveris Academy.

Even after graduating, I kept receiving emails from the Sustainable Energy programs about opportunities relevant to my current position, such as the Large-Scale solar form hosted by CEC, UQ Women in Engineering and the PhD women’s program. I have attended entrepreneurship workshops to help me build my leadership skills and confidence to adapt to my future career.

This may not be an extraordinary story, but for me, it has been the most important experience during the past 20 years of my life. I have received so much encouragement from the students and staff at the Sustainable Energy programs, and I really feel this is my extended family in Australia.